Beer is arguably one of the oldest forms of alcohol dating back to 10,000 B.C., and there are four main ingredients that make a beer, a beer: they are water, malt, hops, and yeast. Today, we’re going to break down those first two ingredients and how they contribute to America’s favorite adult beverage…beer!
Water comprises 90 – 95% of beer but is often the most overlooked ingredient. Probably because it’s not sexy or cool to talk about the type of water the beer is brewed with like it is to talk about the hops, grains, or yeast used, but we’ll get to that later.
Historically, different regions of the world became associated with a style of beer such as German Lagers, Irish Stouts, or English Brown Ales.This is mostly because brewers realized that the chemical makeup, more specifically the mineral content, of the water in that region created certain styles of beer better. A primary factor that affects the mineral content of the water is if it came from the ground or surface.
Luckily, modern brewers are able to alter the water chemistry to suit the style of beer they are brewing and that is where we’ll end our discussion on this ingredient. To continue on would constitute a chemistry lesson and that’s not what you’re here for; you’re here for the beer knowledge!
To understand malt we have to first understand how alcohol in general is made. Alcohol in its most simple form is made by fermenting a carbohydrate with yeast. Fermentation is simply a metabolic process that takes place when a microorganism, such as yeast, reacts with a carbohydrate, such as malt, and the by product is alcohol and carbon dioxide.
Now that we understand fermentation a little better, we can dissect what malt is. Malt is typically the catch all term used for when the grain (think carbohydrate here) has been “malted”. Malting grain means that it has been soaked in water until the grain starts to germinate then it is stopped by applying dry heat, or kilning it, if you will. Once this process is complete it is then referred to as malt.
The variances in the types of malt can greatly impact the style and flavor of beer. Though barley is the most common grain used to make malt; wheat, rye, millet, oats, rice, etc. can be used as well. In addition to the type of grain used, how long it is kilned affects the style of beer too. For example a lightly kilned malt produces a pale beer whereas one deeply roasted will produce a dark beer, which will also affect flavor.
We’re not done yet though! To create the alcohol we’ll have to ferment the malt with yeast and balance the sweetness of the fermented malt with hops. But you’ll have to check back next week to get the scoop on those two ingredients.